Tania Rivera has been out of jail for less than a week, and she decided to go back.
In a grassy area near the bland buildings and barbed-wire fences of the Alachua County Jail, the 23-year-old smiles with her son and two big dogs.
For about nine weeks, Rivera worked with a boxer named Barney Collier as part of Alachua County’s Paws on Parole. The program works with well-behaved inmates, like Rivera, who are selected to train dogs from Alachua County Animal Services.
At Wednesday’s program graduation ceremony for Barney and his dog friend, Rollin Hand, Rivera watched Barney play with his adoptive family. Barney’s new adoptive brothers are a group of four elementary-aged boys who cooed and squealed as they showered him in hugs and giggles.
“He’s going home,” Rivera said. “I’m so sad. He’s leaving me.”
But Rivera was smiling as she said it.
The boys, who are just older than Rivera’s son, laughed as they pushed yellow Minion sunglasses onto the slobbering pooch’s face. Rivera laughed, too.
The ceremony wasn’t just for the dogs, though. As the trainers who taught the dogs basic commands and socialized them, the female inmates are also celebrated.
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